Saturday, February 24, 2018

How to choose your Protein Source from Food and Supplements (Protein Guide)

What is protein?

A complete protein molecule consists of 21 different types of Amino Acids, which altogether are the ingredients, or in other words the "building blocks", of the structure of a protein, which is a molecule, specifically a Macromolecule that's made up of chains of Amino Acids.

The 21 Types of Amino Acids are the following:


The 9 essential amino acids are necessary for your body's functions, they are called "essential" for they cannot be produced in your body, you can only get them from foods or supplements. The first three are called Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

  1. Leucine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Valine
  4. Lysine
  5. Histidine
  6. Methionine
  7. Phenylalanine
  8. Threonine
  9. Tryptophan

Conditionally essential:

Your body can synthesize the conditionally essential amino acids, but under stressful conditions (like heavy workouts, sickness, etc) they are getting depleted very fast (that's why they're called "conditionally" essential), so you may need to get them from foods or supplements – to avoid shortage.

  1. Arginine
  2. Glutamine
  3. Glycine
  4. Cysteine
  5. Proline
  6. Serine
  7. Tyrosine


Your body can synthesize the non-essential amino acids from other amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates. There's no need to get them from supplementation or foods, except if you want to give them to your body as a ready-source, to avoid the time needed to synthesize them.

  1. Alanine
  2. Glutamic acid
  3. Aspartic acid
  4. Asparagine
  5. Selenocysteine

The Variations of Protein in various foods

Protein molecules can consist of a variable number of different types of the 21 Amino Acids (not the complete list of the 21 types), like protein from various Plants and Nuts. Most of these types of protein lack 4 essential amino acids (or have them in very small quantities): Lysine, Tryptophan, Methionine, and Phenylalanine. Although, you can obtain them from a mixed Plant and Nut based diet. Some plant-based foods contain the complete list of all the amino acids, some of those are the following: Sunflower seeds, Quinoa seeds, Soy seeds / Soybeans, Hemp seeds (generally: Cannabis seeds), and Chia seeds, among others.

Usually, the protein that's sourced from animals (like Meat, Milk, Eggs, etc) contains the chain of all the 21 amino acids in its structure, with the best analogy.

Can you build muscle with a vegetarian diet?

Yes, you can get the complete list of all the 21 amino acids from a vegetarian diet. You just have to consume mixed and huge amounts of various plants and especially Nuts and Legumes.

Check this out also: Building Muscle with Sunflower Seeds: A Detailed Breakdown of the Superfood

If your choice is the combination of various Legumes, Nuts, Quinoa, Soy, and Chia seeds, you are fully covered.

Another way is to get a ready Vegetarian Protein Powder supplement, there are many on the market, just look for the ones with the complete list and the highest amount of Essential amino acids.

Using complete Amino Acid supplements as your Protein Source

You can find complete amino acid supplements on the market, but that way is going to be expensive. The advantage is that your body will get all the amino acids in free-form, without the need to metabolize huge amounts of protein molecules to get the amino acids it needs. Which means really fast absorption rates and faster recovery, with a much less amount to intake. Is it worth it though? Not really, except if you have a problem with your intestines, a problem that doesn't let you absorb nutrients effectively. You can get a form of protein powder that's called "Protein Hydrolysate" to achieve (almost) the same thing, you can read about it in the next section of the article, down below.

The types of Protein Powder supplements

Protein Concentrates:

They contain about 80% of protein with the remaining 20% to be fats and carbohydrates. For the extraction of the concentrate from various foods (like milk) the process uses evaporation and drying technology, among other methods like the combination of enzymes, heat, and/or acids.

Protein Isolates:

They contain about 90–95% of protein with the remaining of only 5–10% to be fats and carbohydrates. For the extraction of protein Isolates (which come from the protein concentrate) the process uses some extra filtering steps to remove additional carbohydrates and fat out of the concentrate. These extra filtering steps include membrane technology, ultra-filtration and/or diafiltration, evaporation and drying technology, sometimes with the extra combination of enzymes, heat, and/or acids.

Protein Hydrolysates:

Like protein Isolates, they contain about 90–95% of protein with the remaining of only 5–10% to be fats and carbohydrates. The extraction process is the same as with protein Isolates, but there's an extra step of heating with enzymes and/or acids, to break down the chemical bonds between the amino acids. This extra process makes the protein to have a faster absorption from your intestines to your blood flow, and eventually your cells.

Recommended Protein Powder supplements

If you're vegan, any plant-based complete protein supplement is good. It doesn't matter much what type of plant protein is the most appropriate, for it is the list of the amino acids that it contains that matters. If it has the complete list, and especially high amounts of Essential amino acids, you're covered.

If you're not vegan, there's a huge amount of choices you have, just don't be a fool to pay for marketing tricks. A simple Whey Protein (protein from milk) will give everything for your body's protein needs, but some people may have adverse effects like stomach bloating from the Lactose it contains (although Lactose is a good source of energy for the body). Therefore, you can choose a whey protein supplement without lactose, like whey protein Isolate.

There are bulk protein powder supplements on the market, which are the smarter choice. You can find a clean Whey Protein powder (without any additives, like artificial colors and sweeteners) for about $50 for a 5kg (11lbs) bag. I have personally tried it and I will never pay for the overly-marketed supplements again, because it's a waste of money. Bulk without additives is the way to go if you want to pay for Protein and not for all the other additive stuff and the marketing costs. Of course you can get a bulk powder with some taste and/or coloring too, that's your right of choice.

Which one of the protein powder Types is the best?

By looking at the protein content of protein Isolate and the faster absorption with higher bioavailability of protein Hydrolysate, one could easily say that they are superior, with the Hydrolysate to be the best.

Is it like that though? The answer is, no. In my opinion, protein Concentrate is the best. Why? Because it had much less processing.

The extra processing methods may give a higher protein content, but, the protein molecules and the amino acids most probably have a degraded molecular structure quality (not bioavailability, but the quality of the molecule itself), meaning that, even with higher bioavailability, these processed types of protein have less of the desired effect in your cells. (see: study 1, study 2)

What does that mean?

It means that the first choice for your protein needs should be your natural food, the less processed – the better. If the amount of protein from your food is not sufficient for you, only then you have to look at the side of supplements, where it's much wiser to choose the simplest protein supplement, a protein Concentrate like simple Whey protein.